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The Study of Slavery in Africa

  • Martin A. Klein (a1)
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1 Thus laws against slave-trading were more strictly enforced than legislation on slavery, which was often a dead letter. Even the slave trade was tolerated in some areas during the period of conquest. On late nineteenth century abolition and its effect on the conduct of the partition see Miers, Suzanne, Britain and the ending of the slave trade (London, 1975); Renault, François, L'abolition de l'esclavage au Sénégal (Paris, 1972), an earlier version of which appeared in the Revue française d'histoire d'outre-mer, xviii (1971); and Renault, François, Lavigerie, l'Esclavage africain et l'Europe (Paris, 1971). All three of these studies are competent as far as they go, but none really explores the question of what happened once a territory was under administrative control. On policy toward freed slaves see Bouche, Denise, Les villages de libert´ en Afrique Noire française 1887–1910 (Paris, 1968).

2 The Symposium on the Economic History of the Transatlantic Slave Trade was held in August 1975 under the auspices of the Mathematical Social Science Board of the National Science Foundation. The papers will be published as Jan Hogendorn and Henry Gemery (eds.), The Uncommon Market. While over half the papers deal with the Atlantic trade, there are important papers by Patrick Manning on Dahomey, by Ralph Austen on the Saharan trade, by Mahdi Adamu on slave delivery systems, by Hogendorn and Lovejoy on slave marketing, by Lovejoy and Klein on West African slave systems, and by Joseph Miller on Angola. In May 1977, a conference was held at the University of Illinois on Cultivator and State in Pre-Colonial Africa, much of which dealt with slavery, but within the broader context of pre-colonial systems of production. Much of the discussion at Illinois centred around whether or how the concept of mode of production could be applied to various African societies. In June 1977, a major conference on slavery in Islamic Africa was held at Princeton University.

3 The most important recent study is Cooper, Frederick, Plantation Slavery on the East Coast of Africa (New Haven, 1977). See also Mason, Michael, ‘Captive and Client Labour and the Economy of the Bida Emirate, 1857–1901’, J. Afr. Hist, xiv (1973), 453–71; Pollet, Eric and Winter, Grace, La Société Soninke (Brussels, 1971); Allan, and Fisher, Humphrey, Slavery and Muslim Society in Africa (London, 1970); Derman, William, Serfs, Peasants and Socialists (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1973); Wright, Marcia, ‘Women in Peril: A Commentary on the Life Stories of Captives in 19th Century East Central Africa’, African Social Research, 20 (1975), 800–19; Lovejoy, Paul, ‘The Plantation Economy of the Sokoto Caliphate’, J. Afr. Hist, xix (1978); Jan S. Hogendorn, ‘The Economics of slave use on two plantations in the Zaria Emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate’, Int. J. Afr. Hist. Studies, forthcoming, and his ‘Slave Acquisition and Delivery in Precolonial Hausaland’, in Raymond Dumett and Ben K. Swartz, West African Culture Dynamics: Archeological and Historical Perspectives, forthcoming. Important unpublished works include Oroge, E. Adeniyi, ‘The Institution of Slavery in Yorubaland with Particular Reference to the Nineteenth Century’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham, 1971); David Northrup, ‘Patterns of Nineteenth Century Slavery and Economic Growth in Southeastern Nigeria’; Paul Lovejoy, ‘The characteristics of plantations in the Sokoto Caliphate’, paper presented to Princeton conference; Frederic Cooper, ‘Studying Slavery in Africa: some criticisms and comparisons’, ‘Islam and the Slaveholder's Ideology on the East Coast of Africa’ and ‘Plantation Slavery in a Non-Western Society: the Coast of Kenya in the Nineteenth Century’.

4 Hopkins, A. G., An Economic History of West Africa (London, 1973), 23–7 and 225–8.

5 The Hague, 1900.

6 Economic History, 25. Hopkins goes on, however, to suggest that ‘Nieboer's theory is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the existence of slavery, though it happens to fit the African case’. A labour market did not, however, exist in all parts of Africa. See Wyatt MacGaffey, ‘The Economic and Social Dimensions of Kongo Slavery (Zaire)’ in Miers and Kopytoff, Slavery in Africa.

7 Economic History, 21–3.

8 I recognize that as a contributor to the Miers and Kopytoff volume I am trespassing the bounds of propriety in commenting on it. I believe, however, that the contributors to this volume, several of whom disagree with the editors, can contribute to the debate on their ideas.

9 Tuden, A. and Plotnicov, L., Social Stratification in Africa (New York, 1970), 12.

10 See the work of Cooper, Lovejoy, and Hogendorn cited above. For an approach closer to that of Meillassoux and his colleagues, see M. A. Klein and P. Lovejoy, ‘Slavery in West Africa’, in Hogendorn and Gemery, The Uncommon Market. See also Klein, M. A., ‘Slave Systems in the Western Sudan’, forthcoming.

11 Meillassoux, Claude, ‘Etat et conditions des esclaves à Gumbu (Mali) au XIXe siècle’, J. Afr. Hist. xiv (1973), 450 (this article is reprinted in Meillassoux, Esclavage); Pollet and Winter, 239; Monteil, Charles, Les Bambara du Ségou et du Kaarta (Paris, 1923), 192. French archives contain extensive data on slave obligations, but Meillassoux, Pollet and Winter are the only scholars I know of who have analysed these obligations in comparison to the potential productivity of the slave farmer.

12 Philip Curtin develops the notion that slaves were available for trade because they had no value at the point of capture. See Curtin, Philip, Economic Change in Precolonial Africa. Senegambia in the Era of the Slave Trade (Madison, 1975), 154–5.

13 I have touched on some of this in two still unpublished papers: ‘From Slave Labour to Migrant Labour in Senegambia: Southern Saalum 1880–1930’, paper presented to annual meeting to the African Studies Association, U.S.A., Nov. 1976 and ‘Slavery and the Conquest of the French Soudan 1887–1914’, paper presented to the annual meeting of the A.S.A., Nov. 1975.

14 Meillassoux, , Esclavage, 17.

15 Meillassoux, C. (ed.), The Development of Indigenous Trade and Markets in West Africa (London, 1971), 10.

16 Miers, and Kopytoff, , Slavery in Africa, 54.

17 Meillassoux, , Esclavage, 1920.

18 See also Olivier de Sardan, Jean-Pierre, ‘Esclavage d'e´change et captivité familiale chez les Songhay-Zerma’, Journal de la Société des Africanistes, xliii (1973), 151–67.

19 Paul Lovejoy and Steven Baier, ‘The Tuareg of the Central Sudan: Gradations in Servility at the Desert Edge (Niger and Nigeria)’ in Miers, and Kopytoff, , Slavery in Africa, 391411.

20 Also available in English as ‘War and servitude in Segou’, Economy and Society, iii (1974), 107–43.

21 For Curtin's argument on the relative importance of political and economic models on enslavement, see Economic Change, 180–2. Curtin's political model involves a situation in which the taking of slaves was the by-product of conflicts that had other origins. If the political model was predominant, it would follow that slavery was not basic to the structure of the state. The weakness of Curtin's argument is that while slaving may not have been the major form of productive activity in such states, revenues from slaving provided the luxury goods that elites coveted.

22 Coquery-Vidrovitch, Catherine, ‘Recherches sur un mode de production africain’, La Pensée, 144 (1969), 320, translated into English in Johnson, G. W. and Klein, M. (eds.), Perspectives on the African Past (Boston, 1972); for a more recent formulation, see ‘The Political Economy of the African Peasantry and Modes of Production’, in Gutkind, Peter and Wallerstein, Immanuel, The Political Economy of Contemporary Africa (Beverly Hills, 1976), 90111. See also Terray, Emmanuel, ‘Classes and Class Consciousness in the Abron Kingdom of Gyaman’, in Bloch, Maurice (ed.), Marxist Analyses and Social Anthropology (London, 1975), 85135. A critique of Terray from a non-Marxist point of view was presented by Raymond Dumett at the Illinois conference.

23 Integration of slaves is often more rapid in matrilineal societies. This is especially true of slave women, who are often preferred as wives because they have no kin and their offspring remain within the husband's family.

24 Meillassoux, Claude, ‘Essai d'interpretation du phénomène économique dans les sociétés traditionelles d'autosubsistance’, Cahiers d'Etudes Africaines, i (1961), 3867. See also interesting articles by Pierre Bonnafé on the Kukuya and Françoise Héritier on the Samo of Upper Volta.

25 See for example MacGaffey on the Kongo, Allen and Barbara Isaacman on the Sena of Mozambique, Carol MacCormack on the Sherbro of Sierra Leone, and Miller on the Imbangala.

26 ‘Servility and Political Control: Bothanka among the BaTawana of Northwestern Botswana, ca. 1750–1906’. Other articles that stress the economic dimension are by Ogendengbe on the kingdom of Aboh in Nigeria, Dunbar on Hausa Damagaram, Hartwig on the Kerebe on Tanzania, Holsoe on the Vai of Liberia, and my article on the Wolof and Sereer of Senegambia.

27 See Meillassoux, 'Essai…’. At the turn of the century, French administrators were worried that if they freed slaves, there would be no one to do agricultural work. Similarly, when interviewing peasants in Senegal in 1974, a recurrent complaint of older men was that they no longer had sons to support them. The sons had generally formed their own households.

28 This notion is developed in Curtin, , Economic Change, 154–5.

29 Klein, Martin A., ‘Slavery, the Slave Trade and Legitimate Commerce in Late Nineteenth Century Africa’, Etudes d'histoire africaine’, ii (1971), 528.

30 On the use of term plantation, see works cited by Lovejoy, Hogendorn. See also Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, ‘De la traite des esclaves à l'exportation de l'huile de palme et des palmistes au Dahomey: XIXe siècle’, in Meillassoux, , Trade and Markets, 107–23.

31 Archives du République du Sénégal, K 19. The subject of treatment is often highly idealized, especially by those anxious to differentiate African and American systems, but see Ogendengbe in Miers and Kopytoff.

32 Hopkins, , Economic History, 226. In an ironic way, the use of forced labour often contributed to emancipation. In the French Soudan, for example, the most recently enslaved were those most likely to be assigned to forced labour levies, and frequently took advantage of the opportunity to flee to their original home areas.

33 Grace, John, Domestic Slavery in West Africa (London, 1975). See also his article and MacGaffey's interesting discussion in Miers and Kopytoff.

34 Smith, M. G., ‘Slavery and Emancipation in Two Societies’, Social and Economic Studies, iii (1954), 239–90, reprinted in M. G. Smith, The Plural Society in the British West Indies; Igbafe, Philip, ‘Slavery and Emancipation in Benin’, J. Afr. Hist, xvi (1975), 409–29; Hill, Polly, ‘From Slavery to Freedom: the case of Farm Slavery in Nigerian Hausaland’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, xviii (1976), 395426.

35 The Columbia conference was built around three presentations. Two were papers: Frederick Cooper, ‘From Slaves to Squatters: the Plantation Economy in Zanzibar, 1890–1925’ and Timothy Weiskel, ‘Labour in the Emergent Periphery: From Slavery to Migrant Labor among the Baule Peoples, c. 1880–1925’. The third was a stimulating discussion of changes in the modes of production, and thus of labour organization, in the Transvaal by Stanley Trapido.

36 Rodney, Walter, ‘African Slavery and other forms of social oppression on the upper Guinea coast in the context of the Atlantic slave trade’, J. Afr. Hist, vii (1966), 431–43, and idem, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545–1800 (Oxford, 1970). On this point, see Holsoe in Miers and Kopytoff, , Slavery in Africa, 292, and Fage, John D., ‘Slavery and the Slave Trade in the context of West African history’, J. Afr. Hist, x (1969), 393404.

37 See, e.g., the articles by Tlou and Hartwig in Miers and Kopytoff, Slavery in Africa; C. Meillassoux, ‘The role of slavery in the economic and social history of Sahelo-Sudanic Africa’, paper presented to the seminar on the Economic history of the Central Savanna of West Africa, Kano, 1976, to be published in Mahdi Adamu, The Economic History of the Central Savanna of West Africa, forthcoming; Manning, Patrick, ‘Slaves, Palm Oil and Political Power on the West African Coast’, Int. J. Afr. Hist. Studies, ii (1969), 279–88, and his forthcoming article in Hogendorn and Gemery, The Uncommon Market; and the works cited by Lovejoy, Mason and Cooper.

38 In this, the works cited by Meillassoux, Pollet and Winter, Lovejoy, Hogendorn and Cooper and, I hope, my own work, are a beginning.

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